A new company offering to vet the Facebook and Twitter profiles of potential jurors could deter people from turning up in court, a law expert warns.
The company, Jury Selection Services, profiles jurors and gives defence lawyers access to their digital footprints. As well as social media, that can include all publicly available information such as financial status, personal relationships, debt and religious or charity affiliations.
It is the first service of its kind in New Zealand, but University of Auckland law professor Dr Bill Hodge said it was "reasonably common" in the United States where the jury selection process was an intensive part of the defence strategy.
Currently, Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers are given a list of up to 150 potential jurors about five days before a trial.
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When jurors are balloted, prosecution and defence have only four opportunities and about 30 seconds to judge whether to challenge a juror.
Before a trial, prosecutors are able to call on police to conduct background checks on criminal convictions and other possible red flags.
Since defence counsel did not have access to those resources, Hodge said the new service "levels out the playing field".
But he warned there were dangers. "If you know that your details are out there for people, it may or may not unconsciously have an effect on the way a juror goes about their deliberations," he said. "It's hard enough to get people to do jury service.
"It might well find a way for them to seek an excuse to be exempted or excused from being empanelled."
A Privacy Commission spokesman said no laws were broken if information used was publicly available.